Who are they? Do you know any?
Surprisingly, although I was in an abusive relationship for years, and sought counseling off and on for many different issues, up until this last therapist no one had ever used the word ‘Toxic’ when speaking with me. Rather, we focused on other things such as: How do I deal with my codependency? How much responsibility in a relationship is mine? How can I build up my self-esteem? What is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship? Etc. But never, not once, did I ever hear any of them utter the word toxic. Perhaps if they had it would’ve given me a jolt and woke me up a lot quicker than needling me through sessions with other namby-pamby words. Toxic is a very powerful word. When you hear it your mind instantly begins to form a mental picture of a glaring, neon sign that screams, “Warning! Warning! Contents are extremely harmful and should be handled with the utmost caution! Could cause serious debilitation, possibly death!” When someone uses the word ‘Toxic’, your ears perk up and you immediately pay attention. It’s that kind of powerful.
I sat through nearly a year of sessions with this particular therapist and the word was never brought up. We dealt with the stress brought about from my DUI, the suicide of my best friend five months later, the harsh conditions that following winter I was forced to endure living in my home without any real source of heat, and having to do without water for months because the pipes all froze and cracked. We talked about the love/hate feelings I had for my husband, the impact my parents deaths had on me, family secrets, etc. We focused so much on these things that I can’t blame her for not seeing the forest for the trees. After all, she was under the assumption that this person who was always at my side during this time, was in fact good for me. Possibly because I never knew she wasn’t either, and found no reason to give insight into our relationship beyond her coming to my assistance. The illusion was that she was always there to help me.
I’d had to stop seeing my therapist the summer of 2009 because it became increasingly difficult to get into town for appointments. I had no cause for concern at the time, because I seemed to be dealing with things much better. So much so that I even went off my anti-depressants. I flew down and spent a wonderful, relaxing week with Pandora Patty at her place, and came back feeling refreshed, spirited, and ready to conquer anything. It wasn’t until after, when several months later winter would come calling and I would leave my home in a fit of desperation and stay with this toxic person at her insistence for a couple months, that I realized what kind of influence she was having on me. An influence my therapist would finally recognize as ‘Toxic’.
Do you know the quickest way to tell if someone is toxic for you? There are countless websites out there that deal with the subject and give a myriad of characteristics to look for: They may gossip uncontrollably about you, and constantly make snide remarks to and about you. They may find fault in everything you do, your thoughts, feelings, and opinions are completely discounted. They might belittle and judge you, and take every opportunity available to undermine your credibility to others. They can be jealous, controlling, manipulative, over-demanding, defensive, angry, and disrespectful…just to name a few. They have a tendency to insert themselves into others lives and/or situations that have little if anything to do with them, and begin to make it all about them. Being in their presence—whether in person, on the phone, or inadvertently through conversation with another they’ve spoken to about you—usually leaves you feeling unsettled, unhappy, and lacking self-worth, because they are emotionally-draining. In short: If you feel worse about yourself in their presence than not, they’re toxic.
This description appears to be very cut-and-dried and leaves little room for the imagination. This person should be obvious to spot, thereby raising red flags. They are in fact, NOT! Among their other obvious charms they are also very deceptive. Often—as was in my case—in order to achieve their goal of putting you and others down in order to feel better about themselves, they must first draw you in. They prey on the neediness of others, inserting themselves into lives by appearing to want to help, be of assistance in some way. They disarm you with this guise, and then begin to consume your time and attention throughout this ruse. They are so damn helpful at first, quick to leap to your defense, and seem to genuinely care about you as they encourage you to share all of your travails with them. For a time they appear to be a Godsend, until the inevitable happens…they begin to resent you for accepting their help.
When this occurs—and it will—they will begin to share the travails they now have by carrying the weight of yours, with everyone. This may seem like an awful lot of unnecessary effort, but it’s not. Their mad desire to be interesting and the center of attention drive them. In order for them to reach the stature that they feel is required to stand on a podium and exclaim to any and everyone who will listen how wonderful they are and how much they do for others, they must first log in the hours and effort. Ultimately, it pays off for them in the end. They get the recognition they crave. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare quite as well for the victim of their ruse. It always seems to be a win-win situation for this toxic person. Once you realize what their true intentions were, what they’ve done, who they really are, and then attempt to put distance between yourself and them, they have a new use for that podium: To cite every little thing they ever did for you. How much they cared about you. And how now you are being so damn ungrateful and want nothing to do with them. They have set themselves up to appear to be a victim themselves in order to gain sympathy.
It didn’t take long once I started attending my counseling sessions again for my therapist to ‘spot’ this problem. And probably never would’ve occurred at all had I not being staying with this person and sunk into despair so deep I began to entertain the thought of taking my own life. In desperation I made an appointment and resumed counseling again. That was when my counselor finally started asking the right questions. “Why, now that you’re away from your home and the bleak conditions you’ve been living with, are you still unhappy; if not appear to be worse? Why, given the support you obviously now have from this person are you feeling so alone, empty, worthless, and without hope? What exactly has been going on with you since last we spoke?”